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The COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives As New Cases Soar

 December 18, 2020 at 9:27 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Progress and setbacks in the fight against COVID-19 as vaccines arrive, local hospitals approach their breaking points. San Diego has a more progressive political landscape. Does that mean the time is right for a bold new approach to transportation. And what a year it's been a conversation with KPBS as director of news uncovering the big stories of 2020 I'm Mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer, and joining me at this remote version of the KPBS round table, Jonathan Wilson, who covers biotech for the San Diego union Tribune, Suzanne Marmion KPBS, director of news and information strategy and reporter Joshua Anderson Smith also of the union Tribune a week of bittersweet news, 10 months into the COVID 19 pandemic. The first vaccine shots were administered in San Diego, even as hospitals were overwhelmed by the biggest surge yet in cases of the deadly virus. Joining me for an update is Jonathan Wilson, who covers biotech for the San Diego union Tribune. Welcome to the round table. Thanks for having me Mark. Well, South has seen forest Jonathan who got the first vaccine shots here. And what was it like at the hospitals? Speaker 2: 01:22 It was a pretty festive scene. Uh, the first shots went to healthcare workers and hospitals. I was a Rady, uh, on Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon when I started vaccinating folks. And I think the mood was pretty festive. Uh, it was celebratory, you know, one pharmacist, uh, kind of summed it up with the word, hallelujah. Uh, we spoke with a director of infectious disease who was telling us about how he could hardly contain his excitement. And, you know, if you could see under his mask, you could see that he was smiling. So I think given everything that's going on right now in terms of how much pressure the healthcare system has been facing, the prospect of the vaccine is something that a lot of folks are, uh, excited about. Speaker 1: 02:04 And in addition to medical personnel, hospital workers, we're going to see a lot of vaccines distributed at nursing homes, uh, right away too. Right, Speaker 2: 02:13 Right. And that could be starting as early as next week. So health care workers and nursing home residents are among the first two groups that are going to be getting this vaccine. Uh, when you think about nursing homes, you know, long-term care facilities like skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, uh, have accounted for about 40% of COVID deaths nationally, and at least about a third here in San Diego. Uh, so a lot of these facilities have agreed to a partnership with either CVS or Walgreens. So two of the big retail pharmacies, uh, to have pharmacists from those retails come in and administer a vaccine. And so with CVS, we know that could be starting as early as December 21st. And there are places in San Diego that, uh, evidently maybe starting to get the vaccine there next week. Speaker 1: 03:04 And how many doses of vaccine will we be getting in San Diego in the area, in this first batch? And when can we expect more to arrive? And of course it looks like a second vaccine with Moderna in addition to the Pfizer vaccines coming on. Speaker 2: 03:16 Yes, the initial shipment to San Diego was about 28,000 doses. And those are going to be used to give 28,000 people shot. Number one, with the expectation that they would get that second shot from a future shipment of vaccine within the next, roughly three weeks. Uh, you know, it sounds like from governor Newsome's, uh, press briefing earlier this week, that there's another shipment of Pfizer's vaccine on the way next week, potentially. And we do expect some vaccine to come in from Madonna maybe as soon as next week as well. Speaker 1: 03:50 Talk a bit about the ultimate demand for the vaccine. What are public health officials saying about how many people will choose not to get vaccinated? Speaker 2: 03:57 Yeah. So I spoke with Dr. Wilma Wooten, our county's public health officer a couple of weeks ago. And what she said, the way she looks at it is that probably we've got a situation where about a third of people definitely will take the vaccine, uh, about a third of people may very well not. And then you've kind of got this group that's in the middle where they're evaluating the side effects and you know, their sense of risk benefit and, and hearing information through the media and other sources. So, uh, and that's mostly in line with some polling I've seen, uh, we did a story not too long ago, about a recent poll of about 500 San Diego and showing that seven out of every 10. So around 70% definitely or likely would take the vaccine. Now the ultimate question here is, well, how many people have to take it for us to bring this pandemic to in hand, to limit the spread of this virus and that's to some degree, not something we can say with absolute certainty, I've seen numbers as low as 55% as high as about 80%. Uh, it really, it's going to depend on how widely the virus is spreading in our community. So you can imagine, uh, these are pretty effective vaccines from what we're seeing in the clinical trials, but if the virus is really widespread the way it is right now, you're going to need many, many people to be vaccinated in order for them to have some protection against exposure, because a lot of people are being exposed and in different settings. Speaker 1: 05:27 And now for the week's grim news, how bad is this current surge in Corona virus cases in San Diego? Speaker 2: 05:33 Well, we just heard on, on a Thursday that the Southern California region, so San Diego and 10 other counties have plummeted to 0% ICU capacity. Uh, we're at a point now where you know, about 2000 cases, new reported cases a day is normal. Uh, sometimes more than that is, is, uh, not too surprising. Uh, ambulances are being turned away. And in many cases at our local hospitals, uh, people are being asked to delay surgeries, a wide variety of surgeries, whether this is organ transplant, cancer operations, you know, unless it's really, really critical in that moment. So we're, we're getting to a point where healthcare workers who've been basically working overtime throughout the past year are in a place where, uh, they're, they're getting pretty close to being overwhelmed. And, and I think there's serious concern that that's going to erode the standard of care and the quality of care that people can get when they go into the hospital. Speaker 1: 06:35 Yeah, that's a concern for everybody. Certainly. Now you're also covering a related, uh, uh, aspect of this, which is the recent court order to allow strip clubs and other live entertainment with restaurant services to operate in a fifth enforcement scale back. How do we think that might affect efforts to bring our, our case numbers down? Speaker 2: 06:54 The bottom line is, is that it's going to hurt is what public health experts are telling me. I spoke with somebody at San Diego state university recently, who said, listen, we are going to lose people. Uh, we're at a bad place now. And any amount of indoor and outdoor dining is going to, you know, push us further and further to a place where the hospitals are going to be filled up to a point where, you know, we're going to expect to lose people because of this situation. Um, so it, it's, it's something that people in the public health world are, uh, very concerned about and kind of cognizant very, very self-aware about the level of fatigue that's set in, especially now during the holiday season, when typically we're seeing friends, seeing family traveling, spending time with loved ones. Um, so I think there's, there's a recognition of that. And there's a, you know, a sense that we're in an unfortunate place where, because many of these businesses don't have the financial support that they need to shut down to restrict their operations without, uh, losing their livelihoods. That that's kind of created this dichotomy between public health and, and, you know, the sort of short term being able to pay the bills, uh, the economics of things. Uh, but yeah, from a public health standpoint, the people I'm talking to are, are very, very worried. Right. Speaker 1: 08:19 Yeah. And finally, does anyone really know when San Diego in California will see a drop again, in cases when the vaccine might start to kick in and give us some relief? Yeah. Speaker 2: 08:28 That's the big question, right? That's that's the big question vaccination started this week, but when are we actually going to get to a place where life looks like some form of pre pandemic normal? So it's hard to say I've heard Dr. Anthony Fowchee say that we could get to herd immunity, which means a point where enough people have been vaccinated to really control the virus, to control the pandemic by late, early summer. And that you could imagine a sort of gradual timetable of rolling back certain restrictions to some degree, it's going to depend on what we do in the coming months. If by the time we get there, you know, the pandemic is spreading even more than, than it is now that could potentially prolong how long it takes us to get to a time in 2021, when we can, uh, you know, get together with people and go out to a restaurant and live life, uh, in a way that it feels normal, Speaker 1: 09:26 Right? Where are the masks distance and wash your hands? We got to get on top of it. All of us, I've been speaking with Jonathan Wilson who covers biotech for the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks, Jonathan. Bye pleasure environmentalist. See the key goal of ending urban sprawl and getting people out of cars and onto electric buses and trains as entering the realm of political possibility. Now that's because progressive Democrats succeeded at the polls last month. Well, mass transit went out overexpanded freeways, union Tribune, reporter Joshua Emerson Smith sought answers to that question this week and he joins me now welcome back to the round table. Always a pleasure. Well, the central issue is density versus urban sprawl, private vehicles versus public transit. Start with an overview of the public transit projects being considered basically by Democrats. Speaker 3: 10:14 Okay. Uh, long-term folks are looking at a massive new high speed rail system, which would include things like the much debated purple line running from the border through Southeast San Diego, all the way up to Sorento Valley. Uh, in the short term, they want to see much of what was contemplated under a plan laid out last year by the metropolitan transit system, MTS, namely expanded bus service frequency increases along the trolley, and maybe even a trolley extension to the airport Speaker 1: 10:43 And the competing roadway improvement projects that are favored generally by Republicans. Speaker 3: 10:48 They're open to see highway expansion projects largely in the form of new cars and bus lanes along state, route 78, 52 67, to name a few of them. Uh, it should, it should be said though, that Republicans like supervisor Jim Desmond have signaled support for the transit upgrades, as long as they get their freeway projects. And the projects were promised under the previous tax increase Transnet which they point out. So they say, well, we'll support the transit stuff. As long as we get our highways. Yeah, Speaker 1: 11:17 Yeah. Now it gets complicated and it brings up my next question. What's the cost going to be for either wave of transportation upgrades and how will the money be raised? Speaker 3: 11:25 Right. So we're talking about a lot of money. SANDAG has quoted the $177 billion price tag over 30 years. And that's a pretty significant jump from the agency's last attempt at raising taxes. Uh, the failed measure a from 2016 was a 40 or $18 billion proposal. So you can see that $177 billion price tag is pretty hefty. And by comparison, the MTS ballot measure that they contemplating before the pandemic hit was a $24 billion plan. So this is, this is pretty ambitious. Speaker 1: 12:00 And we should note that SANDAG has, of course, the San Diego association of governments and controls a lot of this regional planning and regional raising of money. And now we're talking about some serious money, as you say now, why are environmentalist hopeful that the expanded transit vision now, as a chance as the political dynamic, uh, how has that changed? Speaker 3: 12:20 Well, just in a nutshell, right? The city of San Diego and the County board of supervisors are now controlled by Democrats for the first time in modern history with two very prominent Democrats at the Helms, uh, San Diego mayor, Todd, Gloria, and supervisor Nathan Fletcher. And this is really kind of a U-turn politically for the region. So they feel like if these guys get behind and push this thing, and maybe it'll get over the finish line, Speaker 1: 12:43 You interviewed several political observers. What did they have to say? It's not male. It may be as cut and dried, as you might think, going from Republican to Democrat, Speaker 3: 12:51 Right? Because in order for SANDAG to get this thing passed, they got to get a two thirds, majority vote at the ballot box, right? 67% roughly. And that's no easy task. If Republicans come out in opposition, maybe that there's a little bit of spending opposition spending, or really maybe all they need is a social media or talk radio campaign. Some people are concerned that they could really sink this thing. Speaker 1: 13:15 Know how much of an either or discussion this is, uh, don't electric cars and soon trucks, pickup trucks, and in van son such richer getting cheaper, more popular, the backed by state mandates. And they're going to figure into the equation since there's far more environmental friendly than internal combustion engines, if we go to electric, right. Speaker 3: 13:35 Okay. Uh, follow me on this one, if you can. I mean, this is something that Ron Roberts, the former supervisor and SANDAG chair used to bring up all the time. He'd say something to the effect of cars and trucks will eventually be cleaned. So we need to focus largely on maintaining highway infrastructure. However, SANDAG is under pressure from state officials, namely the California air resources board to meet specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from personal automobiles. And they're pretty far from hitting that target. And the air board makes a big point of saying that that target takes into account, uh, reductions from clean vehicles that will come online in the future. And so people like the head of SANDAG, uh Hassana CRADA say, you know, we really got to meet these state mandates. And the only way we can do it is if we dramatically expand transit. Speaker 1: 14:29 Yeah. It's it really does get complicated. And, uh, you know, I know there's a tremendous debate coming, but I wanted to bring in two other factors, the advent of autonomous cars, meaning fewer cars overall. Plus the fact that mass telecommuting may have maybe hit or stay, uh, even after the COVID crisis, because so many of us are doing it like you and I right now, now doesn't that mean much less need for both highways and in more mass transit going forward people, um, just using fewer cars and staying home more. Speaker 3: 14:58 Well, I will not comment on what autonomous vehicles are going to do. I mean, I don't think anyone really knows how that's going to play out, but I will say that even now at the height of the pandemic where so many people are working remotely, we have seen highway traffic creep back up to 80, 90% of what it was before the lockdown started. People are still driving. They just have kind of changed their driving patterns. They go out in the middle of the day more rather than rush hour traffic. And so we're seeing that there is still strong demand for the highway system, even given the current conditions. Speaker 1: 15:33 President elect, Joe Biden announced his cabinet nominees for secretaries of transportation and energy to key positions when it comes to this topic, how's this debate likely to play out starting in 2021, or we got about to ready to tee this debate up. Speaker 3: 15:47 Yeah. I mean, I think so. I mean, everyone's talking about how the Biden administration really is going to have to square their transportation policy with their climate change and energy policy. And the folks at SANDAG are really hoping beyond hope that that means that there's going to be big federal dollars coming down for infrastructure projects, like rail and bus and other things like that. Speaker 1: 16:13 And with mayor Pete, uh, named in the new secretary of transportation, maybe we didn't waste their time learning how to pronounce a Buddha judge after. All Speaker 3: 16:20 Right. Yeah. I mean, he's putting in very progressive people, right? That are, have pledged to take climate change. Very seriously. Sandbox pitch is once this money is ready, we're going to have to have our own sales tax in place so that we have new revenues locally to then get those federal and state matching dollars and pull them down. If we don't get this sales tax passed by, they're thinking 20, 22, maybe 20, 24, then we could miss out on a windfall. If the Biden administration really is able to get all this money on the table. Speaker 1: 16:55 Talk about and think about in the new year. I've been speaking with union Tribune, reporter Joshua Emerson Smith. Thanks, Josh, always great to be here. As we wrap up 2020, it's an opportunity to look back and how we work to cover one monumental story. After another, the pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, a generational reckoning with race and policing, and one of the most consequential elections in us history, all with the added challenge of working remotely and trying to stay healthy. Our guests for this final segment of KPBS round table in 2020 is Suzanne Marmion, director of news and editorial strategy for KPBS, Suzanne, welcome to the round table. Thank you, Mark. Well, you oversee the radio TV and web platforms for KPBS. If someone told you in January about the year we're going to have, how could you have believed them? Well, Speaker 3: 17:44 See this coming. That is why they made me a news director because I also happen to be psychic Speaker 4: 17:50 If only right. Oh my gosh, we did know we had a pivotal election coming, but even that didn't turn out to be the biggest story of 2020. Obviously we had a powerful nationwide racial reckoning following police violence against a black man named George Floyd and others and women, including Briana Taylor and a San Diego saw thousands of people speaking out on the streets and then the pandemic, right, which has killed so many in San Diego and the Imperial Valley and upturned lives all over the us. Speaker 1: 18:22 Yeah. The Imperial Valley especially been hit. And of course, San Diego, regional hospitals, we're talking about that today on the show and mid day has been covering a KPBS and all the platforms have been covering it. It's been quite a year. And of course, KPBS, like every news operation had to change the way it covers the news logistically. What were some of the hurdles behind the scenes to make sure things ran as close to normal as possible, at least from how the listeners and the viewers experienced the news. Yeah. Speaker 4: 18:47 Yeah. I mean, it's, it's been a huge engineering feat behind the scenes, you know, even to be doing what we're doing right now, talking to each other, um, from our different homes and, you know, uh, we're still actually working on how to bring the round table back for television. You know, it's just not safe for so many guests to come in and chat around the table anymore. Right, Mark. So, um, that said, you know, we have managed on the TV side, uh, you know, to get cameras into some living rooms and many teleprompters, uh, which has meant, uh, some innovating even, um, with our team. So let's take our nightly television news program, KPBS evening edition coming to you from the living room of anchor Maya [inaudible]. And, uh, Maya has a little red lantern, uh, that she puts outside her living room to warn the kids. Hey, when it's red, mommy is on the air. Speaker 1: 19:40 Wow. I don't have to warn anybody about cats around here, but Speaker 4: 19:44 Yeah, don't get me started on cats. My cat has taken to biting me off camera when I'm on zoom. So I imagine you're running a meeting and nobody can see that I, so, you know, and if you try to shut them out of your room, they may out the doors, you gotta let them in. These cats are total tiring. Speaker 1: 20:00 Well, I have to say that our audience, we have to congratulate them because they've kind of put up with a lot of the, uh, the dropping out and the sounds and different voices and backgrounds, sirens going by. And everybody is so into the news and, uh, more interest in the news than ever, you know, we've got to congratulate the audience for sticking with us through it. Speaker 4: 20:20 Yes, we thank you for your patience, you know, and, and I, and I think we get it that, uh, you're kind of stuck. You're stuck with us because everybody is just so hungry right now for, for information, uh, that they can trust. So, uh, we will do everything. We can biting cats, the least of our worries to make sure that we're still bringing everybody in San Diego, in the Imperial Valley, the news that we know you need Speaker 1: 20:41 As news director, do you get much feedback from our audience or people saying, you know, hang in there or complaints or, you know, a to Z on all that? Speaker 4: 20:49 Sure. I think the biggest thing we've seen is a real hunger from us for information on where the outbreaks have been happening. And, uh, that is actually something that has to come from the County. And so it's something that KPBS fought for this year, along with a voice of San Diego in the UT to be able to try to get that information for folks. And that is, uh, has been an ongoing struggle. You know, we we've gotten certainly some wonderful, positive feedback. People are really grateful for things. We started at the start of the pandemic. We, we were asking people for, what are your questions about the coronavirus? And so we started a blog and we were answering those questions. Uh, we've gotten some plenty of hate mail, some death threats around the time of the election, which was really disturbing, you know, cause we are just doing our jobs, bringing the facts, but that is what it is. Speaker 4: 21:37 And, and then overall the audience has just been up for television. I think again, a reflection of the community, really looking for help and for answers, you know, a pandemic is local. You, you need to know, you know, are my schools open? Uh, what, what are the status of the hospitals in my area? And that's something that we are best equipped to be able to help get the word out on, on the radio side of things. You know, we have seen a little less audiences. People are not driving as much, but instead, you know, streaming is out, um, or podcasts are up like our morning podcast, San Diego news now, you know, is a great way for people when they're, you know, having to, to work from home to still be able to be plugged in and on the digital side, uh, again, a complete surge, uh, in, in audience of people just looking for, for information, you know, we've put resources, you know, where can I get tested? You know, we'll have a link to that. Or, um, on Instagram, you know, we we've started doing a daily slide that gives people the latest case numbers, but then also links to resources so that, uh, people can get help. Speaker 1: 22:40 Now, is there a particular story or project or a moment that stands out for you this year from the KPBS news team? Speaker 4: 22:46 Yeah, I think I was very proud that actually it was a KPBS journalist who was journalist of the year. Something actually marks our can relate to. And Mark was journalist of the year, along with the KPBS newsroom some years ago, but it was went to Claire tracer for her commitment to covering issues in the black community and her podcast. Dr. J's about the legacy of violence and policing in Southeast San Diego. Our health reporter, Taron mento has just been in the belly of the beast, getting out factual information carefully, but quickly as you know, she took it upon herself to get a fellowship, to learn about vaccines. So she's all prepared now as the vaccine rolls out with a lot of knowledge there just this week, actually we had a, the police arrested a former caregiver, uh, who'd been accused of serially, sexually assaulting women in nursing homes. And that was following a story that an investigative reporter and meets the Sharma has been doing actually a series of stories where she's been looking at staffing and nursing homes and that, uh, also date back dated back even to before the pandemic. So when have these moments of, of impact, you know, it, it really makes it all worthwhile, uh, to, to be out there and doing this work Speaker 1: 23:53 Well, turns out finally that a KPBS is losing a general manager, but I'm gaining a golf buddy. Tom Carlo is retiring. What role is Tom Carlo played in the evolving news mission for KPBS Speaker 4: 24:04 Tom? Uh, let's see. I started at KPBS about 11 years ago, uh, around the time, uh, when Tom, uh, had just become general manager and his focus was very much new centric and service, uh, to the audience in our region. You know, we needed to step into the gap as the newspapers were laying off people in droves, the commercial stations were kind of fighting to the bottom, um, over ratings and we needed to meet the audience where the audience is, you know, whether they want to hear us on the radio or watch us on TV or listen to a podcast or get that little Instagram story slate. Uh, so Tom was 110% committed to growing the newsroom, you know, from about 20 journalists at the time to now we're close to 50 in spite of the challenging times and being a nonprofit and, you know, the, the whole goal there is to increase our public service. And now, as you know, it's Tom retiring, uh, we're going to have, uh, the first woman to lead KPBS and that is Nancy Worley. Uh, and we had just a really looking forward to 2021 now, you know, bouncing back from the pandemic and stronger than ever to serve our community. Speaker 1: 25:16 Sure. Our 2021 is going to be a great challenging year, hopefully a lot better year and a lot of levels for all of us. I've been speaking with Suzanne Marmee and the director of news and editorial strategy for KPBS. Thanks Suzanne. Thanks Mark. That wraps up our final KPBS round table of the year. I'd like to thank my guests, Jonathan Rosen, and Joshua Emerson Smith of the San Diego union Tribune and Suzanne Marmion F KPBS news. You can find all the stories we discussed today on our website,, since Christmas and new year's fall on the next two Fridays, the round table will return on January 8th. Thanks for listening. And here's wishing everyone a joyous and safe holiday season and join us again in January on the round table.

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San Diego receives its first batch of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, transportation advocates have high hopes for a major expansion of bus and rail service, and a look back at how KPBS covered the top stories of 2020.